Feeling chilled this winter? Maybe a bit sniffly? Bone broth, which has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), will not only warm you up and nourish you, it’ll boost your immune system too. You’ll be better able to fight all the nasty infections that are rampant at this time of year.
What is bone broth?
Bone broth is an infusion of bones, vegetables, herbs and other ingredients that’s simmered gently for 24 hours or more, strained, then consumed. The long cooking time allows the bone to break down, releasing vitamins, minerals, and collagen. One of the minerals it contains is calcium phosphate, the primary mineral your body uses to build and strengthen bones and teeth. It also contains zinc, essential for immune support, making it a bona fide immune tonic.
According to TCM nutritional theory, bone broths nourish the Kidneys as well as build Blood and Qi, both of which help improve immunity.
You can use any type of bone to make your broth – beef, lamb, bison, buffalo, pork, duck, goose, turkey, chicken, or fish. Fowl is the mildest tasting, so if this is your first time making broth, it may be the best to start with.
Keep in mind that from a TCM perspective, different types of meats have different thermal properties, as does the broth made from them. For example, broth made from lamb is the most warming, whereas chicken broth, while also warming, is slightly more neutral making it more versatile. Although all broths are great for staying healthy, chicken broth is best when you’re getting sick or recovering from an illness. This is because its neutral nature will support but not amplify the body’s natural inflammatory response (otherwise known as a high fever).
Use high quality ingredients
Make sure all of your ingredients are of excellent quality – locally and ethically raised, pesticide-free, hormone-free and non-GMO. Beef, lamb and pork should be grass-fed. Bone broth distills the essential nutrients from all the ingredients you put into it. So make sure they’re as good as you can get!
For meat bones, ask your local butcher for marrow bones, oxtail, and soup bones.
Alternatives to making your own broth
Some shops sell pre-made bone broths, which can be great too. Just make sure the product is organic and give preference to products packaged in glass, as substances that contain fat (as bone broths naturally do) tend to absorb more of plastic’s undesirable attributes.
Another alternative is to buy a rotisserie chicken, consume the meat from it, then use the stripped down bones to make broth. Some of the collagen is lost in the roasting process, so if you decide to do this it may be a good idea to add chicken feet as well.
I usually use the bones from a locally-raised, organic chicken, but lately have been experimenting with organic turkey broth as well. Before winter’s over, I intend to make a lamb broth. According to TCM, lamb is the most warming of all types of meat, and I need all the warmth I can get to deal with this particularly frigid weather we’ve been having!
Now for the recipe:
TCM-Inspired Healing Bone Broth
- Bones from cooked chicken parts or carcass from whole roast chicken (you can make broth from raw bones as well but I use cooked).
- Optional: Chicken feet (this will add more collagen – you can also include other parts that contain lots of collagen, such as necks, joints, etc and/or include the cooked organ meats as well).
- Enough filtered water to cover the bones and more to replenish as the broth cooks
- 2 TB organic apple cider vinegar or lemon juice – adding an acidic substance such as vinegar and citrus helps extract the minerals from the bones.
Medicinals & extras (add as many as you wish)
- Combination of vegetables such as carrot, parsnip, onion, leek, celery – I usually save vegetable peelings and “scraps” throughout the week and add them to my Sunday broth.
- Kombu, kelp or other seaweed (several pieces) – in addition to boosting immunity by nourishing the Kidneys, seaweeds dispel excess phlegm. They also support fertility and thyroid health.
- Pinch of good quality sea salt (such as Celtic or Himalayan sea salt)
- 6-8 Da Zao (Chinese dates) – strengthens digestion and nourishes Blood, lubricates the Lungs, treats cough.
- 1-2 TB Huang Qi (Astragulus Root) – tonifies the Lungs, counteracts Qi deficiency, treats cough and asthma.
- 1-2 TB Gu Qi Zi (Goji Berries) – strengthens the Lungs, treats cough, nourishes Blood and Yin.
- 1 medium slice fresh or dried Shan Yao (Chinese yam) – strengthens digestion and nourishes the Lungs, tonify the Kidneys, benefits Qi.
- 1-2 TB sliced or grated Sheng Jiang (Ginger) – aids digestion, protects the Stomach, Liver and Gallbladder, eases inflammation, balances blood sugar.
- Handful shiitake, reishi, maitake, cordyceps or other medicinal mushrooms (increases production of white blood cells, fights free radical damage, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial).
Many other Western and Eastern medicinals can be added as well. Feel free to explore and experiment!
- Combine bones, water, and lemon juice or vinegar in a large stock pot or slow cooker and bring to a boil. (The size of your pot will depend on the size of your bones; a 6-8 quart stock pot should be large enough.) Remove any scum that rises to the top.
- You can add any vegetables or herbs that you’re using at the beginning to enhance flavour; however, the mineral content of the broth will be enhanced if you add them in the last hour or two of cooking.
- Simmer on low for 6-24 hours. I sometimes cook it for even longer. Adjust the temperature low enough that you see gentle bubbling. Check the broth every once in a while to make sure that the water level doesn’t get too low. You can add more water if needed.
- During the last 1-2 hours of cooking, add your choice extras listed above. The Chinese herbs in particular foster immunity by building Qi and Blood as well as strengthening the Lung, Liver, Kidney and Spleen.
- At the end of the cooking time, allow the broth to cool. Strain through a colander and discard the bones, vegetables and seasonings.
- Once the broth is completely cool, store in the refrigerator in a glass container for up to 5 days.
Fat may accumulate at the top of your broth. You can skim it off, or consume it, as it’s a healthy fat source, according to your preference.
Broth may also be frozen for months. I use glass containers with rubber lids. Like any liquid, the broth will expand as it freezes so make sure you leave space at the top of the container to allow for this expansion. If you don’t, the glass may crack.
You can use your home-made broth in recipes, such as soups, stews, and risottos. You can use it as a base instead of water to cook grains. You can also simply enjoy it as “sipping broth.” Throughout the winter, I like to have at least two cups per day, one in the morning and one later in the day.
What about you? Have you explored making your own bone broths? What’s your favourite type and why? And how do you like to use it?
If you’d like to learn more about how Chinese medicine can help you stay healthy this winter, come to my talk on January 25 2018 at Nature’s Emporium in Maple, Ontario. Reserve your spot here or contact Nature’s Emporium to register.
Sources and Further Reading
- Why Broth Is Beautiful
- Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro
- Bone and vegetable broth
- The Healing Power of Medicinal Mushrooms
- Mushrooms for Good Health
- Healing With Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford.
- Your guide to Health With Food & Herbs by Zhang Yifang & Yao Yingzhi
- The Tao of Nutrition by Maoshing Ni & Cathy McNeese
- Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen by Yuan Wang, Warren Sheir, Mika Ono
Information is provided for general health support only. Consult a qualified health-care practitioner before using herbs, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.